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Server Cooling Solution for Small Business? 70

An anonymous reader asks: "What cheap yet effective cooling solutions are available for servers for a small business? Keep in mind, I don't mean a small 100 employee business but rather 10 full time employees. The place is based out of an ex-residential unit, outfitted for the business. As with any small business, there wasn't any real consideration for IT needs when the place was built. The organization is getting its first real in-house server and all rooms within the unit are already in use, meaning the server must live nicely in office space, with humans, where the existing switch is. The organization follows a policy of turning off PCs and air-conditioning out of hours and in the Australian summer, the unit easily heats up past 35 degrees Celsius, exceeding the maximum operating ambient temperature for the server. Now, I can convince them of leaving the air-conditioner on, but the humans may not want the room as cool as I want it for the server and it's difficult to ensure that no one has turned it off. Are there any other cheap yet effective cooling solutions for a small business where the budget is extremely limited?"
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Server Cooling Solution for Small Business?

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  • by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:38PM (#16431919) Homepage Journal
    Portable Air-Conditioner.

    Stick the server in it's own closet. Use a portable air-conditioner to cool the room as low as you want. Have the heat exhaust into the rest of the building.
    • Exactly- stick the Server (and other networking equipment) in a closet. Preferably one near an outside wall. Run a separate 'window' AC either directly outside thru the wall, or use some ducting to direct the hot air outside. The AC should be enough to keep the closet (and the server in it) nice and cool. If you want to get 'fancy', you can add some ducts and a fan or two that will kick in and circulate the 'normal' air thru the closet during the day, taking advantage of the existing whole-house AC (if it
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I spent a few days in a Diebold walk-in Automatic Teller Machine. I was doing network support for a major US bank. The climate control in said machine was a cheap window air conditioner. I don't know if this is a standard thing for ATM's or not, but it was sufficient for the size which was slightly smaller than a large walk-in closet.
      • If you lack a closet that is available, you can build a cabinet or a closet to house the server. I (for a few weeks) had a PC in a kitchen cabinet for a while without anything but ambient (no) airflow and no special vents. It did get quite warm, but there are options to refrigerate that kind of space.

        The option of cutting up a fridge isn't bad really, as long as you can controll the humidity issues that result. The truth is that the humidity will remain low as long as you don't store foodstuff in it. The
    • This works great until the first power outage. Then the A/C unit doesn't come back on afterwards: its got digital controls like virtually all new window A/C's. The temperature in the closet jumps about 50F and if you're really lucky someone notices BEFORE the equipment fails.

      Yeah, been there, done that.
      • There are many room temperature monitoring solutions out there [sensatronics.com], but the OP is on a budget. Easiest way to handle it is to NOT have the server auto-reboot on power restore. I wouldn't do that for the main web server (which should probably be at a colo anyway) but for a general office server, it would be fine. The OP could also have the server auto-shutdown when the INTERNAL temperature (such as CPU temp) gets too high (may want to do that anyway).
    • by itwerx ( 165526 )
      Actually, make that TWO air conditioners. AC units that small are usually built pretty cheap and when, (not if), it dies that small space will overheat very quickly if you don't have a spare running alongside it.
  • Server Closet! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by acvh ( 120205 ) <geek@m s c i g a r s.com> on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:39PM (#16431933) Homepage
    Literally. If it's a residential unit, there must be closets. Put a wall mounted AC in it and pack it full. Use two if you have them, and need the room.
    • Put a wall mounted AC in it and pack it full. Use two if you have them, and need the room.

      Be sure to properly size the AC unit. An AC unit over capacity will short cycle and have reliability issues. An undersize unit may run all the time and not cycle off long enough to properly defrost itself leading up to ice blocked airflow. If you are in a high humidity location, then look for a unit which can bypass or reheat some air to lower the humidity. Some room AC units in trying to reach high effeciency do n
  • do not worry (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:40PM (#16431941)
    i run several servers in Panamá, a humid tropical land, with 15 to 20 users (mail, firewall and samba server, + development server) very similar to your server, and just a few extra fans on the server case. the systems run fine, just try to blow some extra air to the hdds, and keep it clean (monthly cleaning).
  • Define "cheap" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <perry.matt54@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:42PM (#16431965)
    Are there any other cheap yet effective cooling solutions for a small business where the budget is extremely limited?
    What's cheap to you? Obviously you want something that's going to be less expensive than replacing a dead server or replacing your data.

    If you are in an ex-residential space then there is most likely a garage or utility room/closet that you can use for things such as your network switch, telephone, PBX, servers, etc. Why not put your server there and install a small air conditioner.

    I have a friend who runs a small business out of his home. He uses a spare bedroom as an office and made the bedroom closet his server room. He installed a split-unit air conditioner [samsung.com] to keep the closet cool.
  • Just run the AC (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jjeff1 ( 636051 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:43PM (#16431987)
    You can look at getting an air conditioned rack, though you'll probably spend more for the rack than for your whole server setup. Likewise, any carrier grade type servers will have the same cost issues.
    You could outsource everything, use one of those Internet based backup services. Or co-locate a server someplace and rsync all your desktops data to it nightly.
    If they're not keen on Air Conditioning a large office all the time, is there a closet you can take for a server room? You just need enough room for a server and AC unit. If the area doesn't have an outside wall for a standard wall AC unit, consider a portable AC unit, where the heat exhaust could be piped outside via normal ducting.
    Other than that, run it over spec, keep good backups, and make sure management knows by not taking care of the environment, they're being penny wise and pound foolish.
  • s p a c i n g
  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @08:09PM (#16432237)
    A small refrigerator will cost you under $100 (at least, here in the US it does), and will keep your server as cold as you want. As a bonus, it will also chill your beer.
    • A small fridge actually can't pump enough heat to keep a reasonably fast system cool; you'll wind up with the inside of the fridge being hotter than the outside.
    • A small refrigerator will cost you under $100 (at least, here in the US it does), and will keep your server as cold as you want. As a bonus, it will also chill your beer.

      Check the BTU rating of said fridge before purchase. Most small fridges are designed to 1 cool warm objects placed inside and remove the heat that leaks inside from the outside. To do both of these jobs a small capacity cooling system is used. If your computer can produce heat faster than the cooling system can remove it, the temprature
  • by bunions ( 970377 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @08:09PM (#16432239)
    35 isn't -that- hot, even if it is marginally outside spec. Point a floor fan at it or something if you must. The important thing is to clean the carpet fuzz, dust, wallabys and wombats out of it frequently so the heat sinks can actually work.
  • First... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Frumious Wombat ( 845680 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @08:26PM (#16432351)
    as to cooling it, the answer is Yes.

    More practically, you want to seal it off by itself (heavy curtains or folding partitions may be enough), the turn an AC on inside the mini-room, and threaten anyone who turns it off. I went through years of this at a former job, where the U maintained that cooling wasn't infrastructure, so our cluster's cooling was our problem. We used a portable unit for a while (and just vented the heat into the ceiling tiles, so the people above us had a warm floor), but eventually the answer was take over controllable space, and install a Liebert cold-water recirculating unit, as well as having the building airflow modified. Expensive, but we needed that headroom. Your situation is much smaller, so a closet with its own chiller and guaranteed air-circulation should do it. (Presuming, of course, that by 'server' you mean '1 to 2 proc Intel box pulling 500W max', rather than, 'I'm sharing an office with an E10K because we have nowhere else to put it.")

    Rule 1 of Offices: the most expensive member sets the temperature

    Rule 2 of Offices: the business data is more expensive than even a bunch of employees.
  • by syukton ( 256348 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @08:31PM (#16432411)
    If you're hitting 35C ambient temperature, your internal temps shouldn't be much over 55C unless you have inadequate air circulation. Get some SMART monitors on the hard drives to watch their temperature sensors and use an application like Motherboard Monitor to alert you when you approach your CPU's critical temperature. I wouldn't worry about it too much. Speaking only from my own experience, quality hard drives [seagate.com] have operating temperatures up to 60 Celsius. A Dual-Core Opteron can operate anywhere from 65C to 83C depending on what chip you have (PDF [amd.com]). A word of advice: larger fans at lower RPMs tend to push more air and are quieter. If noise isn't a concern, then go with larger fans at higher RPMs. Also, if you can maintain a higher total pressure inside the server case it will help prevent dust from settling and limit how often you need to pop the top and clean it out, but it also puts more stress on the intake fans which may lead to more rapid failures. I've never collected statistics on this sort of thing so the increase in failure rate may be negligible.
    • I've been running servers in my livingroom for years now. Your bigest problem is going to be dust in the fans and cooling fins of the heatsink. Make your server with positive air presure inside to keep the dust bunnies out of the CD/Floppy/USB and Other holes. Use a big filter on the intake fans and change it on a regular basis. I use store bought A/C filters and cut then to fit my cans fan intakes. You can make a bracket to hold the filters or just duct tape them to the case.

      Use GOOD FANS(dual ball bearing
  • A couple of these things exhausting into a duct (think a clothes dryer setup) can keep temps down and humidity low. I've seen these things keep closets cool that have heat producing lamps shining on indoor sun loving plants.
  • Return air vent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LoudMusic ( 199347 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @08:38PM (#16432475)
    I have about 10 servers at a 65 employee place - we put the servers as close to the return air duct as we could.

    Most people think that cooling computers has more to do with offering cold air to them, but it's actually all about removing the hot air that they're producing.

    Simple and effective.
    • Bingo.
      When I turn on my render farm at home I open the glass door and put a custom stack of box fans in pointing out. I turn them on and fire up the render farm. After several experiments I found this to be an optimal solution. In the winter I don't open the door :-)

      In the peak summer temps (100+) I don't render between 1:00pm and midnight. Since the inital query was for a switch and a server (Even if it is an E10K as someone else mentioned) The closet with it's own AC should work fine, and sans that a
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      I was thinking the same thing. A restaurant near us has a large fan for the kitchen that sticks out the side wall. I was thinking that could work in our server room. Set it with a thermostat and have it come on when it get too warm.

      Honestly I really don't see the problem. For a small company run out of an old house we are talking about just one or two servers max.
      I would suggest they spend a little extra money and get a good Intel or AMD server that support the vanderpool or pacifica.
      Put Xen on it and use v
  • The best option is to get a mini 2-unit a/c and enclose the server with the cooling unit. You could probably build out some baffles to get the air flowing right. The 2-unit is more efficient than a window unit (which is not an option for many reasons - e.g., pop it out and abscond with the server) but less so than central a/c. However, if it's only cooling a small space it won't be too bad. It's also fairly quiet. Prices are around $1500US when I last checked.

    Thing is, you pay now or pay later. Scrimp on co
  • Even if it is just a small cabinet or using some boards floor to ceiling. It will allow you to put separate cooling on the server, will dampen down noise and will prevent people from accidentially switching off the server. Servers also should to be kept at relatively low humidity and, more important, dust free. You can accomplish all that only with a separate room or cube or whatever. The switch should not be a concern, gigabit ethernet works well over copper up to 100m (if you use quality Cat5e cabeling).
  • How about just putting a circle of box fans around the servers?

    Just make sure they are on high or medium and you should be fine...

    It works for keeping a human cool, why not servers?
  • Computers are comfortable well within the comfortable ambient temperature range for humans. It's more important to make sure you don't impede air movement by stacking things on top of it, next to it, in front of it, or behind it if any of those things impede airflow.

    Also, it is advisable you schedule maintenance, perhaps on a quarterly basis, to remove the cover and vaccuum out the accumilated dust as you're going to be in a much dustier environment than your average data center.

    The other bit that is more
  • Ok, this whole celcius thing, most of your audience is in the US. Write for your audience :)

    So 95F, that's pretty warm.

    Here is the SUPER cheap way. In the US, you can get a window unit air conditioner for under $100 US. Hook up some hoses and direct air directly into the server. Might have to open a panel or cut a hole in it. If you don't want to damage the server by cutting a whole in it, remove the panel and tape a piece of carboard over it to seal the air in (well, not seal, but at least allow the therma
  • You might consider waiting for the Core 2 Quad. It seems that a blowtorch could hardly cause that chip to overheat

    http://voodoopc.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    Then you just need a couple fans to cool your hard drives
  • You need to keep the systems off the floor, and clean. That will help the systems survive a wide range of temperatures, with or without HVAC. If you are putting the machines in rack, I wouldn't put anything within 2' of the floor (dust/dirt). Leave that open, mount everything above that level. If the machines will sit on shelves/desks, again, keep them spaced out, and away from the floor.

    Humidity is the worst thing for machines, so maybe keep a dehumidifier handy if dampness is an issue.

    Keep them clean,
  • Ice Cubes!

    Or... a much better idea, the Ion Cooler [engadget.com].

  • Be careful with the free-standing portable room air conditioners.

    We used one in a server room ... every little power spike would shut it off, and with no automatic turn on we'd end up with a toasty warm server room, and all of the servers howling..

    Then we brought the people responsible for controlling the $$ into the server room for a 10 minute show-off. Oh, with the A/C unit off. And we explained how the A/C unit shut off with every little power spike (which we had 2 of during the meeting). The meeting
  • I live in Australia too. 3 computers I look after are located in an small room. The temperature monitoring software on the computers was warning us that things were getting to hot. So after trying a few different things we settled on putting an air conditioner in the room. This is then set on a timer controller which turns the air conditioner on for several hours, a few times a day to keep the ambient temperature in the room to an acceptable level.

    In the winter we don't need to use it air con at all, in
  • by drsmithy ( 35869 ) <drsmithy@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday October 13, 2006 @11:28PM (#16433329)

    If the machine is rack based (probably not, but just in case), you're going to be fighting an uphill battle to even have it in the same room as working people from about ten seconds after you first power it on.

    If it's a tower machine, then it's just a PC and needs no additional cooling that your existing PCs don't already have. If it's a 'home brand' PC, just make sure the case has large, slow-spinning fans and the machine's various vents aren't right next to solid objects that will obstruct airflow out of the case. You might also want to make sure the intake fans/vents have some dust filters.

    Also, make sure you're using RAID (with either a hot spare or replacement drive *on hand*) and backing up regularly. Outside of extraordinary circumstances a hard disk will be the first (and only) thing in the machine that dies, probably 12 - 18 months after you first power it up.

    I say this all as an Australian who has looked after the same sort of IT infrastructure you're talking about in the same sort of climate. Indeed, my own home server has 12x7200rpm drives and dual 2.4Ghz Xeons in a large tower case with little more than 12cm fans blowing air directly over the drives and a single 12cm fan exhausting out the back - I keep an automated eye on it with various monitoring tools and even on a hot day like today (where it is 35), the drives are only sitting at 39 - 41 degrees.

    The short version is that you're not going to have any heat-related problems with a single (or even several, if they're reasonably well spaced) tower-style machine in an already airconditioned room.

  • Setup an enclosed area with one of walls next to the window. Build your own insulated dry wall borders if you must...framing is fun. Then just grab a cheap window mount AC unit and set it up.

    With the supplies and cost for something like this you'll save over somekind of per server solution. I would literally buy someething like the $100 AC unit Wal-mart has and setup a space just large enough for a rack. Nuthin' fancy.
  • I agree with the person from Panama.

    Dedicated A/c is not absolutely necessary.

    Just have somewhere for the _hot_ exhaust air from your server to go so that the room does not heat up while the office is closed & the room A/c is off.

    The ambient air sucked into the sever will be enough to cool it s long as the hotter exhast is ducted out of the room.

    Household clothes dryers have exhaust duct kits available for them for the same reason... are you getting a hint here??

    Buy a cheap duct kit, send the hot air ou
  • You probably don't have basements in Australia, what with needing those heavy-duty clamps to hold your buildings to the earth so they don't fall off. (See, Americans can be sensitive to the perspective of the rest of the world.)

    Around here in the good old US of A, putting a few servers in a basement works well.
  • I have done this for a number of similar sized businesses in Australia (Perth). Summer temperatures can be 40C plus during the day but drop to 20C most nights. A couple of the businesses used Microsoft's Small Business Server, with a fairly heavy use of an intranet and SQL Server. I suspect that Linux user's experiences would be similar.

    Most of them just used normal room airconditioning - obviously this was normally on during the day, then switched off when the last worker went home. We built them standar

  • Air *flow* is much more important than air *temperature*. A machine in a room with an ambient temp of 30 - 35 degrees, but with good airflow through the case (and most importantly over the drives) is better than a machine in a room with an ambient for 20 - 25 degrees, but no airflow.

  • Many machine rooms and all houses are designed for fewer pieces of hot equipment than are common now, which has repeatedly led me to

    • add a vent or kitchen-exhaust fan into the attic, to allow the hot air to escape
    • put in an old-fashioned air vent in the floor, to provide a source of cool air
    • put them near the equipment, so as to get a thermo-siphon effect, and
    • use the largest room to put the equipment in, not the smallest.

    The large-room trick also means that if you use a local air conditioner, it doe

  • Plumb in an air-to-water heat pump [powertech-solar.com]. Instead of contributing to global warming by just tossing the exhaust heat outside the building, you're recycling the PC's unwanted waste.

    If your office was once residential, it might even be easier to fit than air-con, and the business should end up paying less for the energy.

  • I live in Brisbane, Australia - it can get a bit warm here in Summer. During the summer of 2004, on the weekend of the 21st and 22nd of Feburary, it sustained at 41 and 42 degrees centigrade on those 2 days respectively. Don't ask why I remember the dates - I just do. There were 2 PC's in the non air-conditioned part of the house. My brothers and mine. Mine was higher spec'd with more HDD's and "a single case fan". His had no case fan. His would freeze after running for 30 minutes when the temperature in th
  • We have about 15 employees but 5 servers. They're kept in a small room - maybe 12 by 5 feet. For cooling we'd like a professional install but never get approval, so we bought this split unit [tlc-direct.co.uk] (image only - didn't buy from that company) and replaced a window with an extractor fan. The fan actually shoves air into the building; in winter this is sufficient and the A/C goes off, while in the summer we get fresh air into the building and it acts as a failsafe if the A/C dies.

    The extractor is on the UPS while th

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